MARINA, Calif. – Connie Cruz was just waking up when she received a heart sinking call early Sunday from the owner of the California home care facility where her mentally disabled daughter lived.
"Something very bad happened. We had a very bad fire," Cruz recalled the owner telling her. "I then just broke down. She was my only child."
Monica Calderon, 24, was one of five residents of the Mt. Carmel Adult Residential Facility in this small seaside city who died in the weekend blaze.
The others, identified by Marina police on Monday, were John Hernandez, 21; Rubicella Ramirez, 26; Janette Navarro, 22; and Mary Morales, 22. A sixth person, an unidentified 22-year-old man, survived but remains hospitalized.
Calderon had lived at the facility, and the children's home that predated it, for nearly half her life. It was a good, caring, well-run home, Cruz said.
"The staff always tended to the kids. They were good people," she said Monday outside Marina City Hall, where officials briefed the media on the fire.
Police said the fire began in a front bedroom around 11:45 p.m. Saturday, and early indications show no evidence of arson.
The four-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac across the highway from the beach met all requirements for a facility caring for adults with disabilities and was equipped with working smoke detectors, said fire Chief Harald G. Kelley. Built in 1974, it did not have sprinklers and was not required to.
The owners, Julieta Duerr and Purita Belmonte, have been cooperating with the investigation, police Chief Edmundo Rodriguez said. No complaints have been lodged against the home or its owners, according to California Department of Social Services, which licensed the facility.
A voicemail message left at a phone number for the women was not immediately returned Monday.
"It was a really quiet place. You never heard anything," said John DiCarlo, a retired sheriff's deputy who lives down the street.
DiCarlo said he rushed to the home just after midnight after hearing sirens roaring through the neighborhood.
"When I got up there the house was totally engulfed in flames," DiCarlo said. "It was too intense. You couldn't get near it. I saw them pulling people out."
Three police officers suffered smoke inhalation injuries while trying to rescue residents. A firefighter also was treated at the scene after evacuating a victim near the doorway.
The two caregivers at the home were outside when responders first arrived. Police wouldn't say if the caregivers tried to help the residents, some of whom were not ambulatory, escape.
Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting the probe.
On Monday, construction workers boarded up the windows and stabilized the roof, which was draped with a blue tarp. Potted plants lined a ramp leading up to a charred front door. Leaves on a palm tree in the front yard were singed.
Across the street, white and pink balloons shaped like hearts, stuffed animals, cards and flowers were left in memory of the victims.
"It's a small community. We stick together," said Dale Leddy, 69, who lives nearby and came to the scene to pay his respects. "They already had a rough life and then to have this happen. It's just so sad."
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